Benjamin Waddell

Benjamin Waddell

When people find out I have three young children, I often get looks of astonishment. And I understand why. As a millennial born in 1982, I’m an exception to the norm. During my lifetime, rising inequality and stagnant wages have made it increasingly difficult for the majority of Americans to raise a family.

This is why I strongly support making the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced through the American Rescue Plan, permanent and more inclusive. The expansion of these programs represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide struggling families with the additional income they need to lead meaningful lives.

I understand why many in my generation have decided to have fewer kids. Raising children today is simply more expensive than it was in the past. I currently pay $1,650 a month in child care, the bulk of which goes to keeping my 4- and 5-year-old in school. After our mortgage, which is just over $2,000 a month, there’s not much left for things like health insurance, internet, gas, electricity and food.

My generation — the millennials — has been tagged with a multitude of stereotypes, including entitled, lazy and impatient. But the truth is quite the opposite. We put in longer hours, sleep less, and take fewer vacation days than previous generations. We also have overseen one of the most impressive periods of economic growth in world history.

Still, despite working harder and putting in more hours, millennials are well behind previous generations when it comes to the accumulation of wealth. In fact, according to researchers at the Federal Reserve, millennials possess 40% less wealth than earlier generations at the same age. 

Since the 1970s, working-class wages in the U.S. have gone stagnant while the cost of living has increased drastically. And the situation is getting worse. Although our economy has expanded without precedent in recent years, the actual purchasing power of working-class wages has not changed at all.  

This helps explain why my generation is having fewer and fewer children. By 2020, fertility rates in the U.S. dropped to 1.6 — well below population replacement levels. As a consequence, our society is quickly aging, and our businesses are struggling to find working-age individuals. 

Meanwhile, the cost of education, housing and health care have all outpaced the growth of wages. When I started college in 2001 at Fort Lewis, tuition was just $ 1,792 per year. Today it’s nearly $9,000 a year, representing an increase of 402% across two decades.

In short, the cost of raising a family has increased rapidly over the last 40 years. However, if American families were to receive monthly payments of up to $250 to $300 per child, it would drastically improve their ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. 

As a middle-class family, the extra income would allow my wife and me to open college savings accounts for our children. It would also help assuage the high-cost of medical care. Last year, for example, we spent $6,000 on our daughter’s teeth due to the fact that she was born with a narrow jaw. Unfortunately, our insurance only covered $1,500.

Of course, the largest impact of the CTC and EITC will be felt in the working class. In Colorado alone, 1,109,000 children and 298,000 workers will benefit from child tax credit and earned income tax credits.

In time, these investments will grow the middle class and advance our country’s ability to compete on the global market. Additional income will also help alleviate the stress of living month to month, improve education outcomes, and significantly contribute to the health of our nation. The American Rescue Plan has revealed the clear benefits of increased tax credits, but if we care about the future of our families and our economy, we should make them permanent.

Benjamin Waddell is an associate professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

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